Green Koans: Shakyamuni Touches the Earth

Clark Strand

CASE #1: Shakyamuni Touches the Earth

As Shakyamuni meditated beneath the bodhi tree, Mara pointed to the place where he sat and demanded, “Who witnesses your right to the seat of enlightenment?”

Shakyamuni reached a finger down to touch the ground. “I call the Earth as my witness,” he replied.

Zen Koans Case #1 Shakyamuni Touches the Earth

View from Denisova Cave in southern Siberia, where archaeologists recently recovered mitochondrial DNA from the finger-bone of an early hominid 

Mara’s name means “death” or “destruction.” In Buddhism, he is identified with delusion.

Because of its broad, stable trunk and ample shade, the bodhi tree (ficus religiosa) has long been used as a site for meditation.

In ancient times, as now, the deed to a piece of property must be attested to by at least one witness.

The hour between dark and dawn is sometimes referred to as “The Hour of the Wolf,” evoking the eerie, predatory fatalism that tends to come calling about that time. This is the moment when Mara appears to Shakyamuni with his panoply of threats, temptations, and insinuations. The last of these is the suggestion that Shakyamuni has no right to occupy the “seat” of enlightenment.

According to a traditional story, at Shakyamuni’s request “the earth quaked, and myriad thousand-fold blossoms rained down from the heavens.” Another account has the Earth goddess herself emerging to confirm the Buddha’s enlightenment, her body half out of the ground.

But there is an older, much deeper story buried just under the surface of this one. Dust around it ever so gently and you will find the finger-bone of a Buddha still bearing witness to the Earth, in spite of all the tales. In this older version, the fingertip itself cries out: “You are my mother and father. You are my liberation. From the beginningless past to the endless future, you and I are one.” That Buddha’s fingertip isn’t a hook fishing for a compliment. Nor is it a request to have his enlightenment confirmed from without. It is an equals sign.


Sentient beings
Have two choices, up or down,
Buddhas only one.
Try as you like you’ll never
Toss a stone out of this world.


Read all the Green Koans.

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wonderwheel's picture

Re the video: Mr. Strand is fallinng into a dualistic view of up and down, sky and earth. Indeed, Mara's illusion says to reject reality, but Mara does not point to the sky to do so, he points to death to create fear and craving for life. Mara says to reject the reality of the Sky as much as to reject the reality of the Earth.

Buddha is born pointing to both the sky and earth *simultaneously*. Pointing to the sky is pointing to the vast emptiness of our own true nature. Pointing to the earth is pointing to the witness of "THIS", where we sit and stand. Mara never points to the sky because Mara is more afraid of beings realizing the emptiness (sunyata) of our own true nature than of anything else. It is because Buddha personally manifested the vast emptiness of the Sky that the arrows and spears thrown by Mara's minions turned to flowers as they flew thrugh the sky aimed at Buddha It is because Buddha personally manifested the direct realization of "THIS" that he could touch the Earth as his witness.

prisca10's picture

prisca10's picture

"The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart."  says Clark, quoting from the Dhammapada, during one of our "Green Meditation Society" meetings. 

How to avoid Mara's clever attempts to lead us astray - away from the earth, from our lives, from our hearts? Mara represents the many ways in which we delude ourselves. 

Watch the following short video, from last Thursday's "Green Meditation Society" meeting, where Clark discusses "Mara pointing to the sky."  

James Lignori's picture

. . . the fingertip itself cries out.”

Time is unfolding. There is no waiting until we are dead, buried and turned to bone before we can touch the earth.  At any moment, every bone in our body has only to feel how it is being touched.

"Sentient beings have two choices, up or down. . ."

Even the coin we toss seeks the ground.